The New Family Dinner: Personal Chefs, Home-Delivered Meals are Healthy Options
By Frederica Saylor

As life’s pace becomes more frenetic, shuttling from work to school to the orthodontist to basketball practice, the timeless question remains: What’s for dinner?

By the time the car finally rolls into the driveway at the end of the day, energy and creativity can be low. With only a few hours left before bedtime, families want to spend time together, not scrambling to put a meal on the table.

LY: Verdana; FONT-SIZE: 10pt">As a result, many people choose to dine out, order pizza or fast food, or even settle for a bowl of cereal.

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LY: Verdana; FONT-SIZE: 10pt">But as nutritionists and physicians urge American families to eat better, a growing trend in the Boston area has taken on an added plus. Numerous services now provide families with the option of home-delivered, fully prepared meals; grocery items brought right to the doorstep; and even personal chefs. What parents may not have considered, however, is that these convenient meals are better and healthier than a fast food drive-thru, a pizza or even a high-calorie restaurant meal. And they might even be less expensive in the long run.

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LY: Verdana; FONT-SIZE: 10pt">The benefits for families are healthy meals without the rush and with the togetherness time that parents and kids crave.

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LY: Verdana; FONT-SIZE: 10pt">“You have someone who cleans your house, mows your lawn and clears your snow,” says Mary Kernan, a personal chef. “But feeding your family is more important than any of these.”

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Kernan has been preparing meals for families for almost two years, and has devised an all-inclusive service called Homemade Today, which serves families in the MetroWest area of Boston.


From grocery shopping to kitchen cleanup, Kernan provides families with healthy, home-cooked meals ready to defrost and heat. Customers can select dinners from a menu that changes quarterly, or they can provide their own recipes.


“I really emphasize the ‘personal’ part of personal chef,” Kernan says. “I have a girl that doesn’t like nuts, so when I make a coffee cake, I make half with and half without nuts.”


She says she is also careful about food allergies.


Each week, clients e-mail or call in their orders and set up a time for Kernan to come in and prepare the meals. Families usually leave her a key, and she provides her own equipment. She will prepare as many meals as requested each week, but requires a minimum of five dinner orders, each consisting of four to six servings. 


“Sometimes families will make this stretch over two weeks, or they’ll do a co-op with another family,” she says.


Lavish or a Good Value?

“We at first thought, ‘What a luxury,’” says Amy Fredericks, whose family has used Homemade Today for the past year. “But when we broke down the math and looked at how much it cost to go to Bread & Circus, [the latter] was expensive. For the value we were getting, it was really a more reasonable alternative.”


Fredericks says she first called Kernan because she was returning to work and didn’t want to compromise her time with her 2-year-old daughter or to make unhealthy choices by putting a meal together in a rush. 


 “When I thought about eliminating going out as much or picking up food, it didn’t seem like a luxury choice; it seemed like an economical choice,” she says.


Robin Salazar and her husband Juan have also been preparing meals for families in the Boston area for 14 years. Chefs and owners of the South Shore-based Cooking from the Heart, the Salazars began the business to deliver healthy meals to people at home, especially after the birth of a baby.


“Preparing meals is one of the hardest things to manage as a new mom,” says Robin Salazar. 


Their business expanded, and now they provide more than 300 families with healthy dinners. Each week, the couple posts five different entrČe choices with soups, side dishes, desserts and breads to their Web site. With a minimum of $40 per order, clients can select as many or as few meals as they would like. All entrČes can be vegetarian, poultry or fish – no red meat. Side dishes, desserts, breads, etc., are separate. Families can make special requests based on dietary preferences.


“We specialize in a very healthy, eclectic gourmet menu,” says Robin. 


Orders need to be placed by Saturday, and deliveries are made on Wednesdays. All meals are freezable, unless otherwise noted. If families are not going to be home, they can leave a cooler on the front porch or give the Salazars a key and the couple will stock the fridge.


“For families who order more than single-serving meals, the portions are delivered in Pyrex dishes,” Robin says. “This makes it look more like something you made yourself rather than take-out food.”


There is a one-time $25 fee for the Pyrex dishes, but delivery is included in the overall cost of the service.


“Young working families are the ones that seem to take the most advantage,” says Robin. “People usually start out with us when they have a new baby, and then continue with us when they go back to work because it’s tough to do everything.”


This is just what the Bullit-Jonases did.


“We began using Cooking from the Heart when my teenage son was an infant,” says Margaret Bullit-Jonas. “I hate to cook, and I’m very busy. It started because I just needed some help putting food together – it saved my life when I was the mother of a very young child.”


Bullit-Jonas selects three to four meals each week, which saves her the stress of the desperate dinner-time rush. She also says she likes the family feel the Salazars offer.


Groceries Brought to You

For those who enjoy cooking and have the extra time but find it difficult to always get to the market, the team of Charlie Guarino and Frank Giovino continue a legacy of more than 150 years – the home delivery of select quality foods by H.P. Hood & Sons.


ARGIN: 0in 0in 0pt; tab-stops: 2.0in">Over the years, Chelsea-based Hood has expanded beyond milk and dairy products to a selection of more than 100 items. Their 10,000 customers from a wide delivery area, including Eastern Massachusetts, can select such products as T. F. Kinnealey steaks and Dempsters bread, a variety of frozen meals such as Lean Cuisine, and fresh produce. And, of course, they can count on Hood for their dairy needs.

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ARGIN: 0in 0in 0pt; tab-stops: 2.0in">“We’re not looking to be a supermarket, but a quality deli service with quality items you can’t get in the supermarket,” says Guarino, operations manager for the home delivery service. “We’re getting you the quality products they charge you a premium for and the milk and other heavy items that you don’t have to carry.”

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ARGIN: 0in 0in 0pt; tab-stops: 2.0in">Carrying on a historic Hood tradition, the delivery people are still called milkmen. “They’re dependable; it’s always the same milkman that delivers to your house every time,” says Guarino. “The milkmen establish personal relationships, and in some cases really become part of the family.”

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ARGIN: 0in 0in 0pt; tab-stops: 2.0in">While Hood provides premium products and services, the company’s prices are competitive with area supermarkets, and delivery is included in the price. With the convenience of home delivery, Guarino says, people don’t feel the need to fill their fridge. They can order fresh products a little at a time. Customers are free to order as much or as little as they wish, and they can set up a schedule that is convenient for them.

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ARGIN: 0in 0in 0pt; tab-stops: 2.0in">“We can put a milk box on their doorstep, and it’s there for them when they get home,” says Guarino. They’ll have food for the rest of the week.”

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ARGIN: 0in 0in 0pt; tab-stops: 2.0in">Barbara White and her family have been using Hood home delivery for 32 years. Even now, with her children grown and out of the house, she and her husband still regularly order Hood products. 


“It’s ideal. First of all, it guarantees me a good product,” says White. “The service was always excellent and the people who delivered were always of high caliber. It’s just my husband and I now, and we don’t want to give up the service because we know we have a good product – they have so many products available, and we’ve tried just about everything.”


Mark Parrish, third-generation president of family-owned Crescent Ridge, has also taken the path of expansion from milk delivery to more than 250 products. The company has begun infiltrating grocery stores, in addition to offering home delivery, to introduce their products more broadly.


Parrish says that an average order ranges from $18-$27 and includes four milk bottles, butter, cream, juice and two or three other food items such as meat or seafood. Despite broadening its product line, Crescent Ridge still prides itself on its rbST growth hormone-free, glass-bottled milk.


Making Dinner Right in the Store

The trend of busy families and working couples seeking healthy dinner alternatives quickly caught John Ottman’s attention after he purchased Elegant Farmer, a gourmet grocery store. He noticed that at the end of the night, harried women would scramble into the store looking for prepared foods to bring home. 


“Nobody has time to make dinner any more,” says Carol Hayes, Ottman’s partner. “They’re settling for pizza or Burger King. These women really wanted something fresh-cooked for their families, but they didn’t have time for that.”

Ottman and Hayes developed a monthly program where men and women can come into the store and prepare multiple meals. Before each session, 14 meal options are posted online. Customers select either six or 12 meals, and when they arrive at the store, all the fresh ingredients – salmon, steak, sauces, side dishes, marinades, etc. – are laid out in a converted salad bar. Participants arrive with their own pans and follow directions to put their dinners together.

“We play music, serve beverages and snacks, and in 75 minutes women can make about a dozen dinners,” says Hayes. “When you’re done it looks like a shopping cart full of finished meals that you take to your freezer and cook as needed.”

All dinners are ready to freeze and come with cooking instructions. The total cost per session is $169, and each dinner makes four to six servings. “Per serving, it’s cheaper than a hamburger, fries and a coke, and the food is like what your mother used to make,” says Hayes.

One unique aspect of the Elegant Farmer service, according to Hayes, is that families have given sessions as gifts to elderly parents who may not be eating well, to friends who have had babies, and they’ve even used it as a “girls night out.”

Pam Crocker and her mom signed up for an Elegant Farmer session together, splitting the 12 meals.


“The food was awesome,” says Crocker. “And I didn’t have to worry about getting creative with the same old chicken dish.”


With only an hour and a half between getting home and putting the kids to bed, Crocker often found herself resorting to macaroni and cheese out of a box.


“This allows us to sit down and dine as a family,” she says. “This way, I can pop it in the oven and I know it’s nutritious. Plus,” she adds, “it justifies me getting out of the house. I can go and drink wine and eat cheese and socialize.”


While prepared meals and home deliveries may have been a luxury in the past, these services have become an integral part of family routines around the Boston area.


“We’ve forgotten how to feed our families and sit down for a meal,” says Hayes. “This makes people feel like they’re doing the right thing again.”





Cooking from the Heart – 781-293-8422; – Prepared meal delivery serving Greater Boston and several communities south and west of the city. Delivery area constantly expanding. Minimum order: $40, plus $25 for Pyrex dishes. Free delivery. Cost: $7.50 for vegetarian entrČes, $8 for fish or poultry entrČes.


Crescent Ridge Dairy, Sharon, 800-660-2740; Home delivery of premium grocery items. Minimum order, $7.50; delivery fee, $3.00. Serves Greater Boston, north to Littleton, south to Middleborough and west to Sutton.


H.P Hood & Sons, Chelsea, 800-343-6592; Expanding from its historic roots as “milkmen, Hood offers home delivery of premium meat, seafood, produce, baked goods, frozen foods, ice cream, dairy products, beverages and more. No minimum order required; free delivery. Wide service area includes Eastern Massachusetts.


Homemade Today – 781-860-0500; – Mary Kernan, a personal chef, operates this cooking service for communities in the Metro West area of Greater Boston. Minimum order: Five dinners – four portions each. Cost: $300 plus the cost of groceries.


The Elegant Farmer, Chelmsford, 978-244-0026;

This gourmet grocery store offers $169 monthly dinner preparation sessions for customers right in the store. Minimum order: six or 12 meals.


Frederica Saylor is a freelance writer in Newton.